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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Steelers make moves/Roethlisberger meeting set

The Steelers released four players and placed another on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List, reducing their roster to 75 players.

The four players released include OT Adrian Jones, LB Brandon Renkart, CB David Pittman and FB Dwayne Wright. Rookie OT Chris Scott was placed on the Reserve/PUP List and will be out for six weeks. After six weeks, Scott will be able to practice with the team for three weeks before the Steelers determine whether or not to add him to their active roster. Scott injured his foot prior to the start of training camp and has yet to practice with the team.

The Steelers also announced that veteran LB Andre Frazier was waived from the Reserve/Injured List.

© In other news, the Steelers have confirmed that Ben Roethlisberger will meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday to discuss his impending suspension and whether or not it will be reduced from six games to four.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Post-Denver thoughts

Still think Dennis Dixon is a better option to open the season at quarterback for the Steelers instead of Byron Leftwich?

Sunday night against Denver, we got a good look at some of the poor decision making that scares the Steelers coaching staff with Dixon.

Leftwich didn't look good either, but he was playing with an offensive line made up of reserves.

Yes, Dixon has potential, but this is a team that can't wait for that to develop. It needs an NFL-ready QB in two weeks.

That's why Leftwich will be the starter when the Steelers open the season against Atlanta.

Actually, what the Steelers need is a cross between Dixon and Leftwich. That proved to be Charlie Batch Sunday night, but, as the Steelers have found, when Batch plays too much, he gets hurt.

© Maurkice Pouncey did a credible job against the Broncos and more than held his own. In fact, the first-team offensive line played pretty well.

And spare me the "this guy sucks because he gave up a sack or had a false start" stuff. Offensive linemen are beaten on occasion and Denver is one of the loudest stadiums in the league.

© The personal fouls by the Pittsburgh defense for the second consecutive game were troubling.

The call against James Harrison on the opening drive was a little ticky tacky, but the others were pretty legit. Those are the kind of things that can't happen.

© Jonathan Dwyer finished with 89 yards on 13 carries, but also made a couple of mental mistakes.

Those are the things that have really frustrated the coaching staff with Dwyer. It's one thing to miss time with injuries. It's another to miss that time and not pay attention enough to know what you're supposed to do.

© Troy Aikman was making a big deal of Denver's supposed ability to establish a running game against the Steelers. But Denver had 38 yards rushing on 14 carries in the first half, a nifty 2.7 yards per carry average.

That, folks, is not establishing a running game.

The Steelers pulled a number of defensive starters long before Denver took out its offensive starters.

© Antonio Brown didn't help his cause to win the return job by fielding a punt inside the 5. But it's a rookie mistake that can be corrected.

He's still the best option for this team returning kicks.

Fantasy Football Rankings

Perhaps some of you knew this, but when I started this blog for the Observer-Reporter some six or seven years ago - I can't remember how long I've been doing it – I did so as a fantasy football blog.

And we can't lose touch with those roots.

As such, here are my top 10 players at each position heading into 2010:

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay - Poised for a huge season.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans
3. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
4. Tom Brady, New England
5. Philip Rivers, San Diego
6. Tony Romo, Dallas
7. Matt Schaub, Houston - His injury history scares me - even though he stayed healthy in 2009 - but anyone throwing to Andre Johnson is going to be good.
8. Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants
9. Donovan McNabb, Washington
10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta

1. Chris Johnson, Tennessee - History shows us that running backs coming off 2,000-yard seasons struggle, but Johnson is valuable in the passing game as well. Even if he rushes for 1,500 yards, what he adds in the passing game makes him great.
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville
5. Michael Turner, Atlanta
6. Frank Gore, San Francisco - Another player whose injury history scares me. But the 49ers are a team on the upswing.
7. Steven Jackson, St. Louis
8. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh - Mendenhall is going to be a big part of the passing game as well.
9. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina
10. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans

1. Andre Johnson, Houston - The gold standard for wide receivers
2. Randy Moss, New England
3. Reggie Wayne, Indianpolis
4. Roddy White, Atlanta
5. Miles Austin, Dallas
6. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona - The QB situation in Arizona scares me or Fitgerald would be higher.
7. Greg Jennings, Green Bay
8. Calvin Johnson, Detroit
9. Marques Colston, New Orleans
10. Brandon Marshall, Miami

1. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis
2. Vernon Davis, San Francisco
3. Antonio Gates, San Diego
4. Brent Celek, Philadelphia - A tight end is a young quarterback's best friend.
5. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay
6. Jason Witten, Dallas
7. Chris Cooley, Washington
8. Zach Miller, Oakland
9. Owen Daniels, Houston
10. Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Breaking down the QB situation

Mike Tomlin said this week that Dennis Dixon will play with the starters on Sunday night in Denver and many people ran off half-cocked thinking that means Dixon has a shot to be the team's starting QB.

That's not the case.

Barring something unforeseen, Byron Leftwich will be the team's starting quarterback when they open the season at Atlanta.

But the coaching staff wants Dixon to get some work with the first team so - as I've been saying all along - when they put some special packages in each game while Ben Roethlisberger is out, he'll be comfortable in that role.

Using both Leftwich and Dixon while Roethlisberger serves his suspension makes sense. It gives opponents another dimension to prepare for, especially since the two QBs have such different styles of play. And the Steelers have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to win some games while Roethlisberger is out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Steelers thoughts

There was an interesting piece on Nick Eason in Steelers Digest that explains why he looked so bad in training camp.

It seems Eason had an emergency appendectomy and developed complications from that which caused him to lose 29 pounds.

According to the story, Eason had to have portions of his bowel removed as well and is lucky to be alive.

He also had to have his intestines pumped through his mouth, which could not have been pleasant.

© I had a long talk with Frank Summers today about the fullback position.

Summers said he doesn't know how much the Steelers intend to use the fullback, but he seems to have fully embraced the position.

© I also spoke with Emmanuel Sanders about possibly being the guy who is being overlooked among the receivers at this point.

We had a long talk about his blocking skills, which have impressed me, as well.

Sanders said he wasn't asked to do a lot of blocking in college, but that it was his main job in high school.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My 53-man roster

With two games under their belt, things are starting to mesh out for the Steelers in terms of what their 53-man roster is going to look like.

There have been a few surprises and it won't be an easy cut for this team to trim away 27 players.

Here's what I think it will look like in the end:

QBs (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon: Charlie Batch will be released, but if Leftwich or Dixon are injured while Roethlisberger is serving his suspension, help will be but a phone call away.

RBs (4): Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Isaac Redman, Frank Summers: Summers over Dwayne Wright is the toughest cut here. Redman truly earned his spot on this team.

WRs (6): Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders. The play of rookie receivers Brown and Sanders has been one of the bright spots on the summer. Battle is an excellent special teams player and this team has to keep six receivers around because Ward looks to be slipping some.

TEs (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Johnson. Not a real tough cut here, but Eugene Bright could end up on the practice squad.

OL (9): Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, Flozell Adams, Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky, Jonathan Scott, Ramon Foster, Tony Hills. It almost looks like the light has come on for Hills. Essex looks very good in the run game, as does Adams. If Justin Hartwig doesn't hold off Pouncey - and I don't believe he will - it's a good bet he'll be gone. Dorian Brooks and Kraig Urbik could be practice squad material.

Defensive line (7): Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke, Ziggy Hood, Nick Eason, Doug Worthington. After showing plenty of hunger last year, Sunny Harris hasn't shown much this summer. Worthington looks like a keeper. Eason had a solid all-around game last week against the Giants.

LB (9): James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, Keyaron Fox. This is a tough position to cut as well. Renauld Williams has flashed at times and Patrick Bailey is a former team rookie of the year and special teams ace.

DBs (9): Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Bryant McFadden, Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy, William Gay. The Steelers take a chance that they can sneak Crezdon Butler onto the practice squad. It's tough to cut Anthony Madison, but he gets exposed every time he plays in the base defense, even when playing against second and third-team players.

Specialists (3): Jeff Reed, Daniel Sepulveda, Greg Warren. No explanation needed.

So there it is. Have at it. It's not an easy cut at many positions, speaking to the depth this team has acquired. The past two draft classes - I include rookie free agents in that - have been very solid and have really improved this team's bench.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Post-Giants thoughts

Here are some initial thoughts from the preseason game against the Giants:

Ike Taylor has to be smarter that he was in getting himself thrown out on the opening possession of a game - even a preseason game.

Walk away Ike.

On the plus side, the Steelers got an extended look at Keenan Lewis with their first-team defense thanks to Taylor's stupidity. Lewis held up well.

Lewis, however, suffered a concussion in the game and did not return.

© I didn't think Nick Eason had a very good, or seemingly motivated, camp, but while I was jotting down a note that he was playing well, he blew up a play in the backfield at the goal line.

© Another note I made to myself: You'll notice Flozell Adams showing up in the run game when you watch that game again.

© Antonio Brown showed enough as a return man to make Stefan Logan expendable. Sorry Stefan.

© I thought all three Pittsburgh quarterbacks played well.

A big reason for that was that the offensive line played much better this week, giving them plenty of time. And the Giants defensive front is much better than Detroit's.

© Isaac Redman has secured his spot on this team. If I'm Jonathan Dwyer, I'm very nervous and motivated heading into next week's game at Denver.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tomlin's thoughts on game against Giants

Mike Tomlin said Thursday that not only will rookie Maurkice Pouncey share some first-team time at center with Justin Hartwig, but that Jonathan Scott will split time at right tackle with Flozell Adams.

It's a sign that the Steelers want to push Adams to play a little harder than he did last Saturday against the Lions.

There's practicing like a veteran, but when you carry that over to a game, it can get the quarterback killed.

© Rookie Antonio Brown will handle the majority of the punt and kickoff returns against the Giants.

© Daniel Sepulveda will be kicking off instead of Jeff Reed. Sepulveda will win that job.

© Finally, Ben Roethlisberger will play, but Tomlin would not say how much.

Judging by how they split the first-team snaps this week, I expect Roethlisberger to start and play at least two series before giving way to Byron Leftwich.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Camp winding down thoughts

With the countdown to the end of training camp down to hours as opposed to days, it's time to reflect on what we've learned at Saint Vincent College over the past three weeks:

© If the Steelers can get even adequate play out of their offensive line, they have a chance to be very good in 2010. But that's a big if.

Willie Colon was certainly no world-beater. But he was the best the Steelers had at right tackle. I'm still not sold that Flozell Adams is the answer there and if he's not, this team could be in some trouble.

I'm not ready to close the book on Adams, however. He was playing his first game at right tackle against Detroit in the preseason opener. I'll be watching again this week to see if there is any improvement there. The real test will come in Denver next week when the first-team offense is on the field for an extended look.

© Ben Roethlisberger is saying and doing all the right things. But can this team survive the four to six games he is suspended to begin the season.

If it is a four-game suspension - which I feel it will be - a 2-2 record in those games is a must. A game at Tampa Bay should be a gimme with this defense, so the Steelers either have to beat Atlanta at home in the opener or win at Tennessee the following week to avoid facing a must-win game against Baltimore at Heinz Field in Week 4.

That game will still be big, given that Baltimore is an AFC North opponent and Pittsburgh's biggest rival, but heading into that game at 2-1 rather than 1-2 would be a much better situation.

If the Steelers can get by at 2-2, they should be able to go 10-6 this season - barring the major injuries they dealt with in 2009.

That's assuming losses at New Orleans, Cincinnati and Baltimore with another stumble along the way.

The schedule just isn't that daunting.

© I heard the pundits talk about everything that Baltimore and Cincinnati have added this offseason while saying the Steelers added nothing.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith miss a combined 22 games in 2009?

Getting both of those players back presumably for a full season is two pretty big additions.

In fact, Polamalu was the best player on the field for either team in every game he suited up for last season.

© I also like the depth, particularly on defense, the Steelers have this season. This is much more capable of handling some minor injuries.

© I think the special teams units will be much improved this season. New coach Al Everest has a lot to work with in terms of young talent on special teams. I expect him to get the most out of it.

© I'll be cutting my roster sometime this weekend and it may be one of the most difficult cuts to 53 players I've had to do with the Steelers in quite some time.

I've been very impressed with the 2010 draft picks and a lot of the 2009 guys look very good as well. There are some veterans who could be getting their walking papers.

That's a tough line to walk, however, since you don't want total inexperience on the bench.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pouncey runs some first team

Rookie Maurkice Pouncey split time with the first unit at center Monday following a strong preseason showing against the Detroit Lions.

Pouncey played well enough that he could push Justin Hartwig to the bench.

Pouncey saw time at both center and right guard against the Lions, but Trai Essex has played well enough at right guard to hold down that spot.

The Steelers would also like to continue to give new right tackle Flozell Adams more of an opportunity to work next to Essex rather than swapping different players in there with Adams. Adams is shifting from left to right tackle.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Post-Detroit thoughts

The Steelers could not have been happy with the way their running backs were putting the ball on the ground against Detroit Saturday night.

Rashard Mendenhall's fumble is one that should not have happened. If it doesn't, he rips off a 30-yard gain if he doesn't take it for a touchdown. Instead, Mendenhall was carrying the ball very loosely.

Head coach Mike Tomlin yanked Mendenhall out of the game on the second series and his backup, Mewelde Moore, promptly put one on the ground as well.

For a team that will be hoping to bide its time with Byron Leftwich at quarterback, those kind of drive killers can't happen.

© Isaac Redman is working his way into a roster spot and Jonathan Dwyer could find himself on the outside looking in.

It must be noted, however, that much of Redman's work came against backups.

© Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett both made nice plays in the end zone on 6-5 receiver Calvin Johnson.

Lewis was later beaten for a TD by Johnson, but it appeared to me that Johnson pushed off on the play.

Still, a touchdown is a touchdown.

Lewis shouldn't feel too badly about that, though. Johnson's an all-world talent.

© Let's not get too giddy over Dennis Dixon's final numbers being better than those of Leftwich.

There isn't a quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh - yet.

Dixon played pretty well. But as we saw Saturday night, he's quick to tuck the ball and try to run.

That may work against Detroit's backups. But remember that Detroit went 2-14 last season. How good can the Lions' backups be?

Plus, a lot of Dixon's passing yards were due to great runs after the catch by Arnaz Battle and Antonio Brown.

© Speaking of Battle and Brown, there may be no more difficult cut for the Steelers than at wide receiver.

That is why I have been saying for weeks that Stefan Logan has no shot of making this team.

We didn't get to see Brown or third-round draft pick Emmanuel Sanders in the return game, but that will be coming next week.

And with Antwaan Randle El and Burnett also capable of working in the return game, keeping a one-trick pony like Logan won't be possible.

© I was a little surprised the Steelers didn't try Daniel Sepulveda on kickoffs. Then again, Jeff Reed's kickoffs were pretty good in this one.

You know what they say about a little competition.

© One of the things the coaching staff had to be happiest with was the fact the Steelers were penalized just two times for 25 yards. Detroit, on the other hand, had 11 for 88 yards.

That means the young guys weren't overwhelmed by the experience of playing in their first preseason game.

© To hear about my thoughts on Saturday's game, listen in on Fox 970-AM from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why I wouldn't play Roethlisberger

I would not play Ben Roethlisberger in tonight's preseason game for one big reason:

Mike Tomlin has already stated that he intends to play the starters 8 to 12 plays. If he starts Roethlisberger and he leads them on a lengthy TD drive, that eats up all 12 plays, Byron Leftwich gets no work with the starters.

By the way, there are three quarterbacks warming up on the field right now and none of them are named Roethlisberger.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tomlin's thoughts on first preseason game

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday that he hasn't decided which quarterback he will start in Saturday's preseason game against Detroit. But Tomlin did acknowledge that he is considering not playing Ben Roethlisberger at all in the game.

If Roethlisberger doesn't play, Byron Leftwich would get the start.

© Stefan Logan and Emmanuel Sanders will handle the kickoff return duties, while Logan and Antonio Brown will be the punt returners.

Tomlin said that Logan must earn his spot on the team as a return man.

Antwaan Randle El likely won't be used in either capacity because Tomlin said he knows what Randle El is capable of.

© While Tomlin wouldn't rule any players out of Saturday's game at this point, he did single out second-round draft pick Jason Worilds as somebody who is healthy but unlikely to play.

Tomlin feels Worilds has missed too much practice time to just throw him into action.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guys I want to see play some real football

The first preseason game is almost upon us and here are some guys I'm itching to see play for various reasons:

Flozell Adams: I've watched Adams at times throughout training camp and it's tough to gauge how hard the veteran is going at all times. I want to see him line up against another team and see if he's got what it takes to help this team at right tackle.

Isaac Redman/Jonathan Dwyer/Frank Summers: These three guys are probably fighting for two spots on the roster, with Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore holding down the other two spots. I only see the Steelers keeping four backs coming out of camp, so it will be interesting to see who shows up. Dwayne Wright is a darkhorse candidate. But because the Steelers do so little with the fullback and use David Johnson in that blocking role, I don't see them keeping five unless they have an injury or Willie Parker gets cut loose by Washington.

Stevenson Sylvester/Thaddeus Gibson/Jason Worilds: The three rookie linebackers have all looked good thus far in camp - though Worilds has been slowed by a hamstring injury. Can they carry that over to a game?

Keenan Lewis/Joe Burnett/William Gay: I think Burnett was pushing Gay for playing time in the nickel before getting hurt Tuesday. Lewis is more of an outside guy, which would make it difficult for him to slide into the nickel with Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden. Rookie Crezdon Butler keeps on making plays as well. But it will be difficult for him to crack Dick LeBeau's defense as a rookie.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another injury

After making it through the first week of practices at Saint Vincent College pretty healthy, the Steelers had another one on Tuesday, as cornerback Joe Burnett suffered a rib injury diving for a tipped pass in the afternoon session.

Burnett's prognosis is not yet known, but he appeared to be in quite a bit of pain.

Burnett will join offensive tackle Tony Hills (ankle), defensive lineman Steve McClendon (knee) and safety Tuff Harris (shoulder) on the sidelines Wednesday.

McClendon was getting his knee checked out by doctors on Tuesday after injuring it Monday. Harris, meanwhile, was placed on the cut/injured reserve list Saturday after getting hurt Friday night.

Linebacker James Harrison sat out his second day of practice Tuesday with a sore shoulder but is expected to be back Wednesday.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bad time to get hurt

Offensive tackle Tony Hills, who was already facing some long odds to make this team, saw his chances take a big hit Monday when he suffered a sprained ankle.

Hills, a fourth-round pick in 2008, has shown flashes of finally getting it, but not a lot of consistency.

And with some of the free agent signings/other young guys on this roster, he needed to be on the field every day to improve and make a positive impression.

But with Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster and Dorian Brooks pushing for roster spots, Hills may find himself on the outside looking in.

In fact, it may actually come down to Hills or Brooks, the promising rookie guard/center out of James Madison.

Brooks has great feet and excellent athleticism. He looks like a keeper.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, defensive lineman Steve McClendon, who has looked good, suffered a sprained MCL Monday.

That could be a blessing in disguise for the McClendon, who was on the practice squad last season.

With the addition of seventh rounder Doug Worthington, who has looked good in camp, McClendon could be caught in a numbers game. Now, he might end up on injured reserve.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Here we go again

From the Associated Press:

Saying "I'll go to my grave" with regret, NFL referee Bill Leavy reopened a Seahawks' wound that won't heal by acknowledging he made mistakes in Seattle's disputed, 2006 Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The veteran official began an annual training-camp rules interpretation session with the Seattle media after practice on Friday by bringing up the sore subject without being asked.

"It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that," said the veteran of 15 NFL seasons and two Super Bowls.

"It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly," Leavy said of the game in February 2006. "I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better."

Though Seattle played one of its poorest games of an otherwise wondrous season that day, several key calls went against the Seahawks in their 21-10 loss to the Steelers. It remains Seattle's only Super Bowl appearance.

This week is the first time since that game Leavy has been in Seattle with the Seahawks. He and a mini-crew arrived Thursday to help with the team's practices and give it a rules presentation.

Leavy didn't specify which plays he "kicked" that big day in Detroit.

But there are two late ones that people still talk about in Seattle — with disdain they usually reserve for cold, weak coffee.

Early in the fourth quarter, tackle Sean Locklear was called for holding on a pass completion that would have put the Seahawks at the Pittsburgh 1, poised for the go-ahead touchdown. After the penalty, Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception, and then was called for a mysterious low block on a play that ended with him tackling Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor on the defensive back's return.

The penalty moved the Steelers from their 29 to the 44. Pittsburgh used its better field position to score the clinching touchdown four plays later.

The next day, then-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren stoked Seattle's angry fire when he addressed fans upon the team landing back home. Holmgren told frustrated fans at a civic gathering at Qwest Field, "I knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts, as well."

Holmgren, now a top executive with the Cleveland Browns, has since said he's gotten over that game.

But Leavy hasn't.

"I know that I did my best at that time, but it wasn't good enough," said the retired police officer and firefighter in San Jose, Calif., who became an NFL referee in 2001. "When we make mistakes, you got to step up and own them. It's something that all officials have to deal with, but unfortunately when you have to deal with it in the Super Bowl it's difficult."

When high-profile referee Ed Hochuli visited the Seahawks' training camp in the months after that Super Bowl, he and his crew took good-natured ribbing from players.

"The Super Bowl was one of those games where it seemed the big calls went against Seattle," Hochuli said in August 2006. "And that was just fortuitous — bad fortuitous for Seattle.

"The league felt, actually, that the Super Bowl was well officiated. Now, that doesn't mean there were no mistakes. There are always mistakes, but it was a well-officiated game."

Now, I know this is going to ignite the furor in Seattle once again, but I would have to disagree that the call against Locklear wasn't the correct one. Watch that play again - and I've seen that Super Bowl over and over again at Sharky's here in Latrobe. That, as it was explained to me last year in a meeting with officials, was a hold.

I'll agree that the illegal block call against Hasselbeck wasn't a good one, but the officials didn't cost Seattle that game. Mike Holmgren's poor clock management is just as much to blame.

The pass interference penalty in the end zone. That was offensive pass interference one Darrell Jackson. He clearly extended his arm.

And Ben Roethlisberger was in the end zone on his TD run. The ball only has to touch the goal line, not cross it.

Seattle needs to get over this one.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Friday night

Strong safety Troy Polamalu and wide receiver Hines Ward were held out of practice Friday night in what head coach Mike Tomlin said was basically a veteran's night off.

Strong safety Tuff Harris suffered a wrist injury while working on a special teams drill. He was in a sling following practice.

Defensive lineman Sunny Harris suffered a foot or ankle injury and also left early. In fact, he was taken out of the stadium before practice ended, so that doesn't appear to be good.

© I kept an eye on right tackle Flozell Adams at times tonight and he looked pretty good as a blocker. Adams has very good hands and that may help make up for the fact that his foot speed isn't quite what it once was.

© Of note for Steelers fans, punter Daniel Sepulveda handled all of the kickoff duties tonight.

Highlights from annual officials meeting

We had our annual meeting with some NFL officials this morning to explain the new rules and points of emphasis for the 2010 season.

There weren't as many new things on tap for this season as in previous years - which is probably a good thing.

Of course, the biggest change will be the new overtime rules. But since those will only be in place in the postseason, they're not really all that big a deal.

They may not even come into play in 2010.

One thing you will notice this season is that the umpire is no longer positioned behind the defensive line of scrimmage - except on kicks and in the final two minutes of each half.

Referee Jeff Triplett, who led today's session, explained that this was done for the safety of the umpire. Umpires were getting trampled, particularly on running plays up the middle.

Triplett did say that he thinks this move may lead to an increase in offensive holding penalties this season and a decrease in defensive holding penalties.

A personal foul after a play is completed at the end of a half will also no longer result in an untimed play. It will be a 15-yard penalty to start the next half or overtime. If it occurs at the end of a game that does not go to overtime, the offending player will face league sanctions.

An emphasis will be placed on players not being permitted to launch themselves shoulder first at a receiver's neck or head before they have had an opportunity to run with the ball.

Steelers safety Ryan Clark was shown a couple of times in the video depicting that one, so he may have to adjust his game a bit.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

What's going on

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was in Latrobe today, just in case you've been living under a rock, and there was a lot of hoopla surrounding Goodell not emphatically saying that he would not reduct Ben Roethlisberger's suspension below four games.

People have to realize that Goodell's a pretty smart guy and he's never going to paint himself into a corner on any issue.

In fact, Goodell did say when asked to clarify if the suspension could go below four games, "No, I said we'll make a decision on what the suspension is going to be at the end of the month."

That seems pretty clear to me.

That did not, however, stop some people from running off half-cocked to go live with news that Roethlisberger's suspension could be lowered even more than two games.

The league office later made the statement that there is no way the suspension will be less than four games.

For the Steelers, that's actually a good thing.

The way their schedule is set up this season, they play their first four games and then have a bye week.

A four-game suspension would allow Roethlisberger two weeks to prepare to start the team's next game, Oct. 17 at Heinz Field against Cleveland.

That's a perfect scenario for the team, considering Roethlisberger cannot have any contact with it during his suspension.

In regards to that, if I were Roethlisberger, I'd hire a receiver or two who is among the team's final cuts to be my workout partner once the season begins.

Teams often tell players among their final cuts to hang loose and stay in shape in case there is an injury. That would be a perfect opportunity for, say, Tyler Grisham – and I'm just throwing that name out there – to stay in shape, work out with Roethlisberger, and perhaps make some money.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Hitting the dog days

The heat index reached 95 here today just prior to a storm rolling in after the afternoon practice and it felt every bit of that.

Newly signed running back Dwayne Wright and defensive lineman Scott Paxson both came down with heat-related cramps, while defensive lineman Sunny Harris also came out for a while before returning to practice.

Rashard Mendenhall was back in full practice today after doing only team drills Tuesday.

Casey Hampton continues to work only on positional drills.

© Perhaps the scariest play for the Steelers came in one-on-one defensive line/offensive line blocker drills when Aaron Smith got suplexed by Flozell Adams.

It was an obvious hold and Smith took it easy on the pass rush the rest of the way. The Steelers don't need him to get hurt again, especially by one of his own teammates.

© Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger continue to split time with the first-team offense, with Dennis Dixon running the second unit and Charlie Batch getting pretty much no reps in the 11-on-11 drills.

When is the posturing going to end and Mike Tomlin just simply going to name Leftwich his starter?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tuesday's notes and news

Running back Rashard Mendenhall was back at practice Tuesday, though he just worked in position drills.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring), guard Ramon Foster (head) and rookie guard/center Maurkice Pouncey (hamstring) were all back in action today.

Rookie Jason Worilds (hamstring) continues to sit out.

© Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians talked about a number of subjects this afternoon with several media members and was quite brazen in how good he thinks the offense can be in 2009 despite missing Ben Roethlisberger for a spell.

Arians said he believes the team can have 4,000 yards passing, two or even three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,500-yard rusher in Mendenhall.

His caveat was Mendenhall staying healthy.

He also said that he would be open to using Dennis Dixon in a Wildcat role this season if he's not starting - something he's balked at in the past. He also wants to work in some gadget plays with Antwaan Randle El.

Arians said he'll have no problem working any of his quarterbacks behind the second-team offensive line, which he called the best backup unit the Steelers have had since he's been here.

That group includes three guys - Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky and Jonathan Scott – who have started games in the NFL, and a first-round pick in Maurkice Pouncey.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Mendenhall injured

Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall missed the team’s afternoon practice Tuesday at Saint Vincent College after having his toe stepped on during morning drills.

The injury is not considered serious for Mendenhall, who rushed for a team-best 1,108 yards in 2009, though head coach Mike Tomlin said he will be day-to-day.

“He had to get it drained in between practices and we’re just going to exercise some caution there to make sure he’s OK,” said Tomlin.

Five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton practiced in a limited capacity after sitting out the first two days of training camp with a hamstring injury.

Second-round draft pick Jason Worilds also suffered a hamstring injury in the Monday afternoon session. He joined offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, the team’s top draft pick, and running back Jonathan Dwyer, a sixth-round selection, on the sidelines. Pouncey and Dwyer also have hamstring injuries.

Tomlin said Pouncey, who is expected to compete with veteran Trai Essex for a starting job at right guard, is close to returning.

© In a minor roster move, the Steelers claimed second-year fullback Dwayne Wright off waivers from Philadelphia and released rookie fullback Demetrius Taylor.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Gibson shines in backs on backers

Thaddeus Gibson, a fifth-round pick out of Ohio State, is quickly becoming the camp sensation.

Gibson was nearly unblockable in the backs on backers drill, beating six opponents, losing only to Isaac Redman. He shows a lot of explosiveness.

Redman, meanwhile, was one of the offensive stars along with Tank Summers in the drill.

The drill is slanted severely toward the defense, so any offensive wins are of note.

© Maurkice Pouncey, Ryan Clark, Ramon Foster, Casey Hampton and Jonathan Dwyer were among those who did not practice today.

More on that later.